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Bypass surgery common

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Sandi Latimer can commiserate with Bill Clinton.

Latimore, a 60-year-old Columbus resident, had just turned on her television to "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in May when she felt a pain running from her elbow across the back of her neck to her other elbow.

"I really didn't pay that much attention," she said. But, when the pain persisted, Latimer suspected a heart attack and drove herself to the hospital.

Her suspicion was on target.

She was rushed into the operating room, and "next thing I knew, I woke up in open heart surgery recovery."

Clinton, 58, will undergo a similar bypass surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia.

Several television networks reported that he will undergo quadruple bypass surgery -- the same as Latimer -- but that was not confirmed by his family or aides.

"I heard that and thought, 'That's what he gets for eating all those Big Macs,'" said Latimer, whose own eating habits included a chocolate bar and a 20-ounce coffee every time she stopped for gas.

Shahab A. Akhter, a cardio thoracic surgeon at the University of Cincinnati, said bypass surgery is common -- he has done hundreds himself.

"Typically these operations are not done on the weekend unless it's an urgent sort of thing," said Akhter. But, "I can't say if it's his heart disease, or if it's because he's the former president of the United States."

Akhter guessed that Clinton's disease was caused by his diet, weight and job-related stress. Clinton, who was known for his love of fast food, started a workout regimen and the South Beach Diet in January.

Risks from the procedure are relatively low: less than 2 percent of dying during the surgery, 2 percent for stroke and 5 percent for bleeding or infection, Akhter said.

More than 300,000 people undergo coronary bypass surgery every year in the U.S., according to a 2001 survey by the American Heart Association.

"Obviously coronary bypass surgery is a serious operation, but at the same time, it's one of the most commonly performed operations in the United States, and therefore the overall risks of the operation are very small in comparison to the benefits gained," said Akhter.

Coronary artery disease occurs when small arteries in the heart become plugged with fat, plaque and blood clots. Those arteries supply the heart with the oxygen that it needs to pump blood to the rest of the body.

A typical coronary bypass operation, said Akhter, starts with cutting and splitting the breastbone, then hooking up a heart-lung bypass machine that keeps blood flowing through the body while the heart is stopped. Arteries and veins, usually from the legs, are then grafted in place of the blocked arteries.

Typical time for full recovery is six to eight weeks, said Akhter.

"I'm sure that somebody that's as motivated as he is will probably be back (to work) in a month or so. I think Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO, was back to work within two weeks of his operation - - although his doctor was probably against it."

Latimer returned to one of her three part-time jobs two weeks after her surgery.

She will take heart medications for the rest of her life: Lopressor, a beta-blocker; Zocor, a cholesterol controller; and 81 milligrams of baby aspirin.

Clinton may have to take similar drugs after surgery, said Akhter.

Latimer also made changes to her diet, giving up caffeine and red meat. She has lost nearly 40 pounds.

She has also gradually resumed a walking regimen.

Now, she walks at least 20 kilometers a week and rides her bike regularly.

Text of fax box follows:

Danger signs

Symptoms of coronary disease include:

A heavy, squeezed feeling beneath the sternum.

Sharp pain in the left chest, abdomen, back or arm (more typical in women).

Shortness of breath with swollen feet or ankles.

(C) 2004 The Cincinnati Post. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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